Discovery Shuttle May Roll Back to Pad Early, NASA Says

Wide Load: Hauling Discovery One Crawl at a Time
NASA's Crawler/Transporter hauls the space shuttle Discovery's launch stack back to the Vehicle Assembly Building on May 26, 2005. The combined weight of the crawler, shuttle stack and its Mobile Launch Platform totals about 18 million pounds and makes for slow driving. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

CAPE CANAVERAL - ShuttleDiscovery is to be separated from its fuel tank and rocket boosters thismorning, after its rollback last week to the Vehicle Assembly Building atKennedy Space Center.

Though the maneuver wasbehind schedule, the shuttle could return to the launch pad earlier thanthought, a spokeswoman said.

The shuttle was rolled backfrom the launch pad so it could be mated with a modified tank originally scheduledto fly with Atlantis.

Lightning storms haltedcrane operations inside the vast assembly building Wednesday.

The safety precautionslowed workers' efforts to "de-mate" the orbiter from its externalfuel tank and boosters.

"They lifted the slingthis morning, and they're working on attaching the sling to Discovery,"NASA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said Wednesday.

Discovery is scheduled tobe mated with its new tank around June 7, then roll out to the launch pad --again -- on June 14.

But despite the delays thisweek, it may be able to mate and move a couple of days earlier than planned,Rye said.

Final wire routing andspraying of insulating foam is taking place on the fuel tank that will fly withDiscovery, she said.

The tank has a new heaterdesigned to prevent buildup of ice during fueling with supercold propellants.Ice can fly off the tank during launch and damage the orbiter.

NASA anticipates Discoverywill fly in a launch window that extends from July 13 to July 31.

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Chris Kridler
Contributing Writer

Chris Kridler is a writer, editor, photographer and storm chaser who authored a group of storm-chasing adventure novels called Storm Seekers. As a reporter covering space, her subjects have included space shuttle missions, the Mars Rovers from California’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and a Soyuz launch and mission from Kazakhstan and Russia. Much of that work was published through her longtime column at Florida Today. Her photographs have been featured in magazines and books, including the covers of The Journal of Meteorology, the book Winderful, and the Wallace and Hobbs Atmospheric Science textbook. She has also been featured in Popular Photography. Kridler started chasing tornadoes in 1997, and continues the adventure every spring in Tornado Alley.